French monks locked down with 2.8 tonnes of cheese pray for buyers

A French monastery in the heart of Burgundy has launched an emergency online sale to get rid of thousands of its artisanal cheeses, which are languishing in its cellars as Covid-19 keeps buyers away.

The Cîteaux abbey, just south of Dijon, birthplace of the Cistercian Catholic order, usually sells its raw-milk, semi-soft discs only to restaurants or visitors its on-site shop. But a drop in demand since the coronavirus crisis erupted last year has left the abbey’s 19 Trappist monks with 4,000 cheeses too many, a 2.8-tonne problems.

“We tried explaining to our 75 cows that they needed to produce less milk but they don’t seem to have understood,” said brother Jean-Claude, in charge of marketing at the monastery, which was founded in 1098.

“Our sales are down nearly 50%,” he said, with French restaurants still closed since 30 October as authorities try to stifle a third wave of cases. “We need to clear out our stock.”

A Cistercian monk and the library of Citeaux Abbey
A Cistercian monk and the library of Cîteaux Abbey, about 19 miles south of Dijon, south-eastern France. Photograph: AFP/Getty

The monk’s cheese last year won the silver medal at last year’s international food and drink competition in Lyon, a bastion of France’s culinary heritage.

The monks have teamed with the internet startup Divine Box, which sells products made by abbeys in France and elsewhere, with a goal of selling at least a tonne of cheese by Tuesday. The minimum order is two wheels at 23 euros (£20) each, plus shipping.

According to the site, 700kg has already been ordered. “We’re going to make it,” Jean-Claude said.


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